The Terminator screens Sunday June 20th at 7:00 pm at the Toronto Underground Cinema.
Genres are just words on a page. Sometimes they aren't very helpful words at that. Some movies that are seemingly easy to classify actually defy any sort of concrete classification. The Terminator is a great example of how labeling a film just doesn't work sometimes. It can be viewed quite openly and obviously as a science fiction time travel film, and while that assessment wouldn't be wrong, it is quite more than that. It can also be seen as one of the most unrelenting action films of the 1980s; a film that never once gives quarter to the audience and rarely gives them a moment to breathe. My own personal view, however, is that this film is one of the best "slasher" films ever made and one of the best horror films of the 1980s.
The elements are all on display. The film is has a great cat and mouse plot where a "final girl" (Sarah Connor as played by Linda Hamilton) is stalked by an unstoppable killing machine. Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T-100 is completely emotionless and deadpan. This is a killer driven by a mechanical sense of duty and order. While the majority of the violence on display in The Terminator is perpetrated by guns (and there is a lot more of it than there is in the sequels), the slasher dynamic is still there.
A lot of the success of this film has to deal with the fact that this is director James Cameron's tightest, and admittedly most focused, effort. It doesn't overstay it's welcome and it hits every beat almost perfectly. Sure, the time travel plot has holes you could drive a convoy through, but what time travel film doesn't suffer from these problems? The real focus here is on action and tension. There is a very good reason why this film sparked a franchise and elevated Schwarzenegger and Cameron to their iconic status. Both have made some darn good movies, but probably never as good as this one.